The company produced fireproof bricks and other heat resistant building materials. Many of their products contained asbestos, which is now known to cause cancer such as mesothelioma and other pulmonary problems.
Harmful Products and Health Consequences
These types of businesses used asbestos-containing products for years because of the heat-resistant and fireproof nature of the fibers, which was originally thought to be safe.
Unfortunately, even after the dangers of working with asbestos-laden products was known by employers, companies like Harbison did not properly inform employees of the risks of asbestosis or institute strict enough safety policies to ensure that workers would not become sick.
Manufacturing workers and construction workers may have come into contact with asbestos-contaminated products under the brand names of H-W Lightweight Castable #10, Micracrete, Chromepak G, and Metalkase Firebrick. Former employees whose jobs were in the manufacturing facilities encountered a higher risk for exposure than others, because their jobs put them into constant contact with the potentially deadly fibers and dusts that lead to mesotheliomas, asbestosis, and lung cancers.
But anyone who worked with these products was and is still at risk for developing pulmonary problems. These diseases can take more than ten years to show symptoms but are often deadly once they are diagnosed, as cure rates for these types of ailments are extremely low compared to other cancers.
Lawsuits, Bankruptcy, and an Asbestos Trust
Harbison Walker Refractories Company has faced multiple mesothelioma lawsuits and other asbestosis litigation for many years as a result of their negligence. By the year 2000, the company was facing hundreds of thousands of asbestosis claims from former employees. In 2001, a jury awarded five former workers $40 million because Harbison-Walker knowingly exposed the workers to these toxins when the company was fully aware of the danger to employees.
Harbison filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2002 and made a deal with insurance companies to settle each asbestosis claim. The company established a trust fund to pay victims their settlements. Out of $4 billion in settlement money, almost 70 percent was allocated to cancer victims.
A New Name and A New Product
Since emerging from bankruptcy, the company changed its name in 2015 and is now called Harbison Walker International. This change in the company consolidated the group’s multiple brands including North American Refractories Company, A.P. Green Refractories Company, and Harbison-Walker Refractories Company. Today the company produces refractory products in almost twenty locations around the United States and internationally.